Benefits of Running Hills and Running Stairs – Is Running Stairs the Same as Running Hills?

benefits of running hills vs running stairs

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Running hills and running stairs are two of the best cardio workouts that you can possibly do.

One common fact between running a hill and running the stairs is that both of them increases the level of your heart rate, and because you are running against gravity it becomes a body weight workout which can actually increase muscle size in some ways.

There are several benefits that you derive when you take part in running hills and stairs even though there are few differences between them.

Both methods of running will provide you similar physical benefits, but they each have some unique parts!

Stairs Running vs Hills Running

You increase the efficiency of your body’s usage of oxygen when you run up hill or a set of stairs.

Running stairs is a good alternative to running hills because it can be done at a lower overall level of fitness.  The difference is mainly the level of air your body is exposed to and the natural environment which could encounter while running hills.

Another major difference between running hills and running stairs is the safety level.  When it is raining out or the ground is wet, neither of these should be done.

It is important to add that stairs may be steeper in some cases than the nearest hill to you, and this changes the entire scope of training.  In more simple terms, whether it is a hill or it is a set of stairs, the bigger and steeper incline will be more difficult for you to train on!

Stair running can also potentially put more negative stress on your joints than running hills.

Stairs involve a certain amount of pounding on your knees and ankles, and the surface is generally less forgiving than when you run hills.  This difference is usually negligible, but it can be a factor!

Benefits of Running Stairs and Running Hills

Here are a few of the specific benefits of running stairs and running hills:

Running Hills and Stairs Develops Leg Muscles Better Than Running on Flat Ground

In 2013 a study was published in the International Journal of Sports Physiology and Performance which observed that runners that placed emphasis on adding hills to their training improved their 5k race times 2%.

You are able to develop your muscle fibers more through hill running because you will lift your knees higher when you are running up hills.

When you increase your muscle fibers, it helps to increase your power level and speed; leading to the improvement in your pace.

Stairs work very similar to hills in this manner, but the muscles worked are slightly different.

Hill running works the muscles which translate to running on flat ground nearly identically, while stairs places far more emphasis on the calf muscles and your quadriceps.

In many ways, stairs neglect your posterior chain.

Both are extremely good for you and translate well to power and speed on flat ground, but hills are slightly better at carrying over the benefits overall.

Running Hills and Running Stairs Improves Aerobic Fitness

One of the benefits of running stairs was demonstrated by a study that was published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, as it was revealed that participants in the study were able to improve their aerobic fitness by 17 percent following a duration of different stair workouts.

This is because running stairs enables runners to utilize their muscles in a running-specific motion, thus providing an increase in strength and general endurance.

Aerobic endurance is generally trained more effectively through anaerobic threshold training.

This means, pushing your anaerobic threshold to have a longer “stopping” point has incredible effects on aerobic energy.

Stairs fit this mold perfectly because your muscles do tire out fairly quickly, but you can also continue to push through this barrier effectively.

Whether it is a set of stairs or a large hill, training in this manner will ultimately result in an increased heart rate and oxygen intake, and you will improve your V02 max (your VO2 max is the maximum amount of oxygen that your body can make use of during an intensive exercise).

Following training on hills or stairs, your body will be able to convert oxygen to energy faster and increases your overall speed and power when attempting to run.

Running Hills and Stairs Burns More Calories than Running on Flat Ground

It is impossible to say exactly what amount of calories you will burn from running hills or running stairs since they come in all different sizes.

However, it is easy to say that you will lose far more overall fat and weight from these than running on flat ground.

The increased overall oxygen intake burns immense amount of calories, and is widely known as one of the best ways to burn fat off from your body!

Depending on the size of the hill, hill running is most likely going to be your superior option for weight loss overall.

Running hills works slightly more muscles overall, thus becoming a little bit better.

Running Stairs and Hills Engages Muscle Stabilizers More than Flat Ground Training

When you engage in stair running you will be able to make use of your muscle stabilizers such as your gluteus medius which is usually neglected when you are running on a flat terrain. This is made possible while you are balancing on one leg while also activating the other leg to move to the next step.

When you strengthen the muscle stabilizers, you also reduce the chance injury.

Stair running dynamically works many stabilizer muscles, some which hill running doesn’t even work.

However, running hills on grass or sand works stabilizing muscles in a unique way since the ground is slightly unstable.

Both of these exercises are tremendous for your stabilizing muscles of the legs!

Concluding Thoughts – Benefits of Running Stairs and Running Hills

When choosing between running stairs and running hills there really isn’t a bad option!

Running hills is generally easier on your joints, if that is a factor for you.  Regardless, you can’t really go wrong.

Both of these have unique benefits which make them superior to running on flat ground, and your body will immediately thank you for switching too them!

Read Next: Best Cardio Workouts for Weight Loss


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